MANHATTAN (CN) — Civil rights lawyers celebrated what they call a “landmark” $75 million settlement on Monday compensating roughly 850,000 black New Yorkers who received phony police summonses.
If accepted, the deal will wrap up litigation that began when East Village resident Sharif Stinson filed the class action in 2010.
“We have achieved a landmark settlement in a civil-rights case that advances the cause of justice,” Stinson’s lawyer Elinor Sutton from the firm Quinn Emanuel said.
Given the enormous size of the class, a $56.5 million pool would be used for maximum payouts of $150 per person and incident. Any unclaimed money from these funds would go back to the city, and $18.5 million will compensate the attorneys.
Accusing the New York City Police Department of operating an unconstitutional quota system that primarily targeted people of color, Stinson’s lawsuit had been part of a tide of litigation that erupted the same year that the New York state Legislature enacted a law prohibiting the practice.
In various cases over the years, multiple NYPD whistleblowers — notably, eight-year veterans Adrian Schoolcraft and Pedro Serrano — stepped forward with corroborating evidence, including videotapes of police brass ordering rank-and-file officers to amp up so-called “productivity goals.”
Stinson’s class action pursued evidence for more than half a decade that knowledge of the quota system went up to the top of the NYPD’s chain of command.
Litigation heated up as Stinson’s team discovered that documents related to former NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly and ex-chief of department Joseph Esposito had gone missing.
Sanctioning the city for “gross negligence” in the evidence destruction, U.S. District Judge Robert Sweet allowed Stinson’s lawyers to argue at trial that the missing documents would have benefited their client.
New York City may have avoided such a trial by agreeing to the 34-page proposed settlement filed Monday. The deal comes with a hefty payout but does not require the city to admit to any liability or wrongdoing.
Zachary Carter, an attorney for the city, said that the NYPD has made strides in addressing complaints about quotas.
“This settlement reflects the remarkable progress the NYPD has made to ensure that summonses are properly drafted and include sufficient details to document probable cause,” Carter said in a statement. “This agreement is a fair resolution for class members and brings an end to a longstanding and complex case in the best interests of the city.”
A city spokesman noted that the settlement does not include any injunctive relief, which he called a reflection of the NYPD’s reforms.
Two signed by Mayor Bill de Blasio — an initiative called “Justice Reboot” and a law titled the Criminal Justice Reform Act — revise summons forms and allow for a civil summonses as an alternative.
U.S. District Judge Robert Sweet must agree to the settlement before it takes effect.
In a 5-page letter, Stinson’s legal team urged the judge to accept the outcome of the negotiations.
“Ultimately, this process yielded a proposed settlement that all sides believe is both highly significant and fair,” the letter states.
The proposed schedule for approving the settlement calls for a 45-day opt-in period followed by a fairness hearing on May 24, during which Sweet will hear whether to give it the green light.
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